Candidates Vie for Vacant Norris Seat 

It took a while for Mark Norris to become a federal judge. He was nominated by President Trump last year but was only recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate after numerous gridlock-imposed delays. It took a while, too, for Governor Bill Haslam to call for a special election to replace Norris in his vacated District 32 state Senate seat.

But now that things are under way, Republican candidates to fill the vacancy are wasting no time getting their campaigns under way. Former two-term Shelby County Commissioner Heidi Shafer, who was one of the first to indicate her desire to seek the seat after Norris was nominated, made haste to get out of the gate, filing to run at the Election Commission on Monday morning. She indicated later Monday that she already has three fund-raisers scheduled for the near future.

click to enlarge New Democratic House Leader Karen Camper
  • New Democratic House Leader Karen Camper

Shafer, who represented an East Memphis district on the commission and chaired that body this past year, displayed some serious legislative skills there. Even before the District 32 opportunity opened up, she had expressed a desire to run for the legislature and at one point had her eyes on a race this fall for the District 96 state House seat won in 2016 by Democrat Dwayne Thompson in an upset of then GOP incumbent Steve McManus.

The Norris seat became a more inviting target, however, and she and her husband Carl subsequently turned their Memphis home over to their college-age daughter and moved into a new Lakeland residence, well within the District 32 limits.

In something of an irony, or at the very least an interesting coincidence, one of Shafer's rivals for the District 32 seat is the aforementioned McManus, who forwent the option of trying to regain his House seat from Thompson (who won again over the GOP's Scott McCormick) and was himself attracted by the prospect of the Norris vacancy.

McManus, too, is off and running, having already run a commercial for his candidacy on local TV this past weekend. In 2016, he had, in the judgment of many, demonstrated a palpable over-confidence in his race against the hard-working Thompson, and his defeat then may have amounted to something of a wake-up call for his future.

In any case, he is unlikely to be taken by surprise this time around and has significant leftover campaign cash from two years ago that will stand him in good stead for the current race.

Both Shafer and McManus are counting on support in East Shelby County, the heartland of the local Republican constituency, as was demonstrated by the weight of Republican voting in last August's primary.

Shafer's commission work, much of it in alliance with Terry Roland of Millington, would appear to give her a headstart with the GOP voters of North Shelby County, and she is also well acquainted with the GOP base in the southern part of Tipton County, also part of District 32.

Both Shafer and McManus have to worry about a third candidate, construction executive Paul Rose of Covington, who is well known in Tipton County and moreover has significant contacts with the Shelby County Republican establishment as well.

Rose has indicated he intends to run hard on conservative themes, stressing Christian values and his support for the 2nd Amendment, a focus that should help him in the district's rural areas.

Yet a fourth potential GOP candidate, not yet announced, is George Chism of Collierville, who served one term on the Shelby County Commission, then gambled on a run for county trustee this year but was defeated by Democrat Regina Morrison Newman, after winning the Republican primary.

So far, one Democrat, Eric R. Coleman of Bartlett, has picked up a petition to run for the District 32 seat. Coleman, a veteran of Naval service and a Wounded Warrior, is a business logistics specialist.

• Shelby Countians are prominent in legislative leaderships positions, at least among the General Assembly's minority Democrats. In recent elections, District 87 state Representative Karen Camper was elected as the Democrats' minority leader in the state House, thereby achieving a dual milestone as the first African-American woman to lead a major party in the legislature.

Shelby County Democrats dominated in leadership elections for the state Senate, capturing three of the spots available for the five Democrats in that body. Raumesh Akbari, a former state representative who won election to the Senate's District 29 seat in this year's election, was named caucus chair for the Democrats, while Sara Kyle of District 30 was elected vice chair, and Katrina Robinson of District 33, was named party whip.

• Local Democrats also made an impact, though one they surely regarded as less desirable, with the state Election Registry, drawing fines for late financial disclosures. Incoming freshman House state Representatives London Lamar of District 91 and Jesse Chism of District 85 were fined $8,175 and $5,000 respectively, while veteran state Representative Joe Towns of District 84, a perennial collector of fines from the registry, drew a total of $20,000.

• Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, who has demonstrated an innovative bent during his first few months in office, has announced a "Health and Fitness Initiative" to begin on Wednesday of this week, with a "City Silo Vegan Barbecue" meal to be served at noon in the 6th floor lobby of the Vasco Smith County Administration Building to members and staffers of the county commission, members of the Healthy Shelby board, and the media.

The initiative will continue in January with what is billed as a "mini" five-minute bootcamp for the commissioners and media members, conducted by Memphis Tiger basketball star Will Coleman.

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